WATCH: Is This Man the Greenest Governor in America?

If Jay Inslee succeeds in his ambitious climate and energy goals, the impacts will extend far beyond Washington state. (Image: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons)

When Jay Inslee was elected governor of the state of Washington in November of 2012, climate campaigners rejoiced. As a congressman, Inslee had a top-tier environmental record, and not just that: He knew climate and clean energy issues inside-out. The co-author of the 2007 book entitled Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, he also worked closely on the 2009 passage of cap-and-trade legislation in the US House of Representatives and was a co-founder of the House’s Sustainable Energy Caucus. No wonder that upon his election in Washington, the League of Conservation Voters declared that Inslee was poised to become “the greenest governor in the country.

Sure enough, Inslee’s term got off to a great start: Last October, he joined the governors of Oregon and California and the Premier of British Columbia in endorsing the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy which pledges that those states (or, in BC’s case, that province) will set a consistent price or cap on carbon dioxide emissions (something California and British Columbia have already done), adopt low-carbon fuel standards, and more.

But there’s just one problem: Shortly after Inslee’s election, two Democrats elected to caucus with the Republican minority in the Washington state senate, thus thwarting what otherwise would have been a Democratic majority in both houses. Instead of holding a 26-23 majority in the Senate, Democrats instead became a de facto 25-24 minority. And that razor-thin edge in the Washington state Senate is currently blocking Inslee from achieving many of his objectives.

The partisan tension became apparent with Washington state’s Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup, or CLEW, a bipartisan panel composed of two Republican and two Democratic legislators, along with Inslee as a non-voting member. Their task was to recommend a set of policies that would let Washington state adhere to greenhouse gas emissions goals that had been enacted in 2008: a reduction to 1990 emissions levels by 2020, then 25 percent below those levels by 2035, and finally, fifty percent below by 2050.

The workgroup convened sessions and public deliberations around the state—but reached no bipartisan consensus. “We had over 900 citizens come out speaking overwhelmingly in favor of climate action, and close to 10,000 comments,” says Becky Kelley, deputy director of the Washington Environmental Council. “So, evidence that people really are calling for action.” Yet the Democrats and Republicans on the working group could not find common ground. They issued two separate reports, with the Democrats and Inslee endorsing strong climate action and the Republicans suggesting a variety of options, but not a central policy to cap greenhouse gas emissions, citing a “currently insufficient analysis of costs.”

There has been more friction on the issue of a proposed low carbon fuel standard. In a January 2014 letter, Inslee charged Republican State Senator Curtis King, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, with having misrepresented the governor’s policy goals by incorrectly labeling the standard a “tax.” In fact, the idea is to require a gradual reduction in the carbon content of fuels through a variety of means, ranging from blending in biofuels to encouraging more electric vehicles. “There is no element of a clean fuels standard that could in any way be called a ‘tax,’” wrote Inslee, later adding that a standard “would include cost containment measures to ensure that fuel prices are not significantly affected.” King responded by asking Inslee to “categorically deny” any intention to impose a fuel standard by executive action, in effect bypassing the legislature. King later charged that Inslee “refuses” to take this option off the table.

And even as Inslee faces Republican resistance at home, his climate action partners may be growing a little impatient. British Columbians, for instance, have already put a price on carbon through a carbon tax, and are waiting for their southern ally to catch up to them. In the meantime, there are frequent charges that drivers who go across the border into Washington to gas up are partially undermining the tax’s effectiveness, and at least some evidence that this is happening, at least to a modest extent.

All of which underscores that if Washington acts strongly on climate, the impact will extend far beyond Washington. For the state will be strengthening and reinforcing what California and British Columbia have already done, and the more these Pacific coast states are unified, the more the United States and even the world will have to take notice. “The sense is that if the west coast as a bloc acts, if we’ve got real climate policy from BC to Baja, that’s the world’s fifth largest economy,” says Kelly of the Washington Environmental Council.

In the meantime, though, Inslee’s position within his state is much like that of President Barack Obama nationally, observes David Roberts of Grist magazine. “He wants to act, but he’s got no Republicans in the legislature on his side,” says Roberts, “so if he gets anything done, it’s going to be through executive powers.”

So what happens next? Eric de Place, policy director of the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank, thinks that if gridlock persists beyond 2014, there’s a chance that a citizen-led ballot initiative in Washington state could allow the public to vote directly on how to curb carbon emissions. Before, that, though, he thinks that Inslee may ultimately try to opt for a policy, like a carbon tax, that might be made palatable to state Republicans: The tax could be designed so that the revenue that it brings in would go towards other state budget shortfalls, such as in the transportation sector and in education.

In his inaugural address as governor, Inslee declared that on leading the nation in green policy, “It is clear to me that we are the right state, at the right time, with the right people.” But now, that delicate balance may have shifted. “I’m certain the governor feels that not enough is getting done on climate action,” says Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute. The question is what Inslee plans to do about it.

Image: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

Is a Carbon Tax a Good Idea? Just Ask British Columbia

Climate Desk Live partners with Climate Access and Bloomberg BNA to explore what may be the most innovative climate policy in North America: the BC carbon tax.


6:30 pm – 8:00 pm PT, Thursday, March 27, 2014
Queen Elizabeth Theatre Salons, Vancouver
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In the US context, the idea of putting a tax on carbon is going nowhere fast. While the policy has been championed by liberal legislators and by a few conservative apostates, like former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, mainstream Republican sentiment remains opposed to climate action. For the moment, many lawmakers remain too busy denying the reality of human-caused climate change.

Cross our northwestern border, though, and a carbon tax isn’t just an idea, it’s a reality. Five years ago, the Canadian province of British Columbia joined a small group of local and national governments (still fewer than 20 overall) that have created a carbon tax—setting a price on carbon in an effort to reduce emissions. Today, the tax brings in $1 billion a year in revenue that is returned to British Columbia taxpayers. Assessing the tax’s impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions is a somewhat complicated endeavor, given a number of confounding factors (like the economic collapse of 2008-2009), but it’s clear that when it comes to the use of carbon-intensive petroleum products like gasoline and diesel, there has been a marked decline since the year 2008 in British Columbia. In the first four years of the carbon tax, sales of refined petroleum products per capita in BC declined by 15 percent, according to the Sightline Institute, substantially more than the decline in Canada as a whole.

At a time when carbon tax policies appear increasingly enticing (especially in light of the failure of cap-and-trade in the US), what can British Columbia’s experience teach us about the prospects for solutions to climate change? How is the tax working? How do British Columbians feel about it? And has it prompted a desired growth in the clean energy industry?

To delve into these questions, Climate DeskClimate Access, and Bloomberg BNA are partnering to present “The Carbon Tax Return: Lessons Learned From British Columbia’s First Five Years of Taxing Emissions.” This distinguished panel, preceded by a cocktail reception, will take place on Thursday, March 27, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Salon C in downtown Vancouver, with doors opening at 5:30pm PDT. For tickets, click here. To join the event on Facebook, click here. The event will also be livestreamed at this page starting at 6:00pm PDT.

Featured speakers include: Spencer Chandra Herbert, a member of BC’s legislative assembly and the New Democratic Party’s designated voice on the environment; Merran Smith from Clean Energy Canada; and Ross Beaty the chairman of Alterra Power Corp. Best-selling science writer and Climate Desk Live host Chris Mooney will lead these policymakers and thought leaders in discussing the innovations, pitfalls, and promise of the first five years of the carbon tax in British Columbia.

Speaker Biographies:

Spencer Chandra Herbert, Environment Critic and Member of the BC Legislative Assembly

Spencer Chandra Herbert was re-elected to represent Vancouver West-End in 2013. He is the official opposition environment critic and previously served as the opposition voice on Tourism, Arts, and Culture and the BC Lottery Corporation and Gaming Policy. Spencer served as an elected Vancouver park board commissioner from 2005-2008, where he worked to improve environmental sustainability in Vancouver’s Parks and accessibility to programs for youth and low-income people.

Merran Smith, Director, Clean Energy Canada

Merran Smith is the director of Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada. She leads a team working to diversify Canada’s energy systems, cut carbon pollution, and reduce the nation’s fossil-fuel dependence, and she writes and speaks extensively on the opportunities for Canada in the global low-carbon economy.

Ross Beaty, Chairman Alterra Power Corp.

Ross J. Beaty is a geologist and resource company entrepreneur with more than 40 years of experience in the international minerals and renewable energy industries. In early 2008, Mr. Beaty founded Magma Energy Corp. to focus on international geothermal energy development. In 2011, Magma and Plutonic Power merged to create Alterra Power Corp. Mr. Beaty also founded and currently serves as chairman of Pan American Silver Corp., one of the world’s leading silver producers.

Jeremy Hainsworth

Jeremy Hainsworth is a contributor internationally to Bloomberg BNA (BBNA) and the Associated Press. Jeremy has worked with BBNA for over three years on legal, regulatory, and policy issues in western Canada for BBNA’s wide-ranging stable of international publications.

Image: English Bay, Vancouver. JamesZ_Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

WATCH LIVE: Have the Media Failed Us on Climate Change?

Journalists from Slate, the Guardian, the Atlantic Cities, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones meet up at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas, to hold the press to account.

Climate Desk’s SXSW Eco panel will examine the media’s coverage of climate change. Watch it live here at 4:30 pm Central Time on October 8.

This past month should have been the biggest month for climate change journalism in six years.

With the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report in Stockholm, there were a wealth stories for journalists to pursue. Scientists are now more certain than ever that humans are causing global warming. Sea level rise projections have been increased—extremely bad news for coastal mega-cities. And researchers have  given a stark warning about the irreversibility of much of global warming, and how it will literally play out over a millennium.

But in recent weeks, we’ve seen a flood of media coverage advancing dubious claims pushed by global warming skeptics, including:

* A large number of news article headlines framed around an alleged global warming “pause” that scientists have dismissed as statistically meaningless and insignificant.

* A British tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, portraying the sixth lowest Artic sea ice level on record as a “rebound” that undermines climate science—a claim that then reverberated in conservative media and even made its way to the halls of Congress.

*Contrarian opeds in major papers minimizing the dangers of climate change and even suggesting that it might be beneficial.

Granted, this problem isn’t new: There’s a long history of the press relying on phony “balanced” coverage to cast doubt on what scientists know about the climate. That was the case even before the major cutbacks in science and environmental reporting at many media outlets over the past decade.

At SXSW Eco, the acclaimed environment and sustainability conference, Climate Desk is convening a panel of top climate journalists to diagnose and address the media’s chronic failings in covering this issue. The event, part of our Climate Desk Live series, will be at 4:30 pm Central Time on October 8, 2013, at the Austin Convention Center, and will feature journalists Kiera Butler from Mother Jones, Suzanne Goldenberg from The Guardian, John Metcalfe from The Atlantic Cities, Phil Plait (aka the “Bad Astronomer“) from Slate, and Kate Sheppard from The Huffington Post. It will be hosted by Climate Desk’s Chris Mooney (me).

The conversation will focus on why the media at large has struggled when it comes to reporting on climate change, and on why there is so little apparent interest—from the media, politicians, and public—in understanding and addressing the climate crisis. The panelists will also cite examples of good climate journalism and explain how the media can do a better job in reporting climate change.

This panel will be live streamed on sxsweco.com, motherjones.com, and climatedesk.org. Check back here on October 8 to watch it live!

This post has been updated since publication.

Are You Thirsty for Better Climate Change Communication?

Climate Desk Live teams up with thirst DC and ScienceOnline Climate. The event is sold out, but you can watch it live here.

Livestream to begin Thursday, August 15, at 7:30 pm ET.:

People are getting tired of the same old story about global warming. They often tune out warnings of impending catastrophe; but it’s not like they trust the deniers, either. The trouble is, the standard global warming narrative is stale and alienating—and perhaps worst of all, stuck in the technical weeds.

That’s why it’s time to apply lessons from the theory and practice of high quality science communication to this pressing issue. And in a new collaboration called thirst:Climate, Climate Desk Live is co-sponsoring an event to feature frame-breaking talks on climate—talks that are both innovative and thought-provoking. The goal is nothing less than to force us to think differently about the planetary future into which we’re hurtling.

Created in collaboration with thirst DC—an innovative science-based creative agency—and ScienceOnline Climate; (a special DC-based iteration of the highly successful annual ScienceOnline conference for web-savvy science communicators), this event will take place on August 15 in Washington, DC. The venue will be 1776, at 1133 15th St NW (just blocks from the White House). Doors open at 6 p.m., and talks start at 7:30. The event is sold out, but you can watch it live right here.

You can also join the conversation on Twitter using #CDLive.

All talks have been specially developed in collaboration with thirst DC’s presentation trainers. The speakers will bring fresh, unconventional storytelling about global warming. The speakers will be:

Kate SheppardMother Jones magazine/Climate Desk: “How to Talk to Your Republican Dad About Global Warming”

Jamie Vernon, American Association for the Advancement of Science, science & technology policy fellow: “How to Get Rich Off of Global Warming”

Liz Burakowski, University of New Hampshire, PhD student in earth and environmental science: “How Global Warming Is Melting the Ski Industry”

Tom Di Liberto, Meteorologist and the first “America’s Science Idol“: “The Wild Weather of the Future: What We Know, What We Kinda Know, and What We Kinda Don’t Know”

Melanie Tannenbaum, Scientific American blogger & University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD student in social psychology: “This Is Your Brain on Climate Change”

James West, producer, Climate Desk. “I Met Our Worst Online Climate Troll (And Kind of Liked Him)”

Hosting the event are the thirst co-founder and creative director, Eric Schulze, and New York Times best-selling author and Climate Desk Live host, Chris Mooney.

THE PARTNERS

thirst DC is an interactive learning space that hosts nerdy events as an active branding and social experiment. Using the science of creativity and creative productivity (including data and information collected from studies performed on Nobel laureates), we engineer learning, entertainingly. Usually held in a lounge-like environment, thirst curates highly entertaining—but also substantive—live science, fashion, music, and socially conscious talks. Thirst has worked with The Smithsonian, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, and others, and we increase their awesome by re-imagining their core values in a nerdy manner.

Climate Desk Live is live briefing series sponsored by Climate Desk, a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are Mother Jones, Grist, Slate, The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, PBS’s Need to Know, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. It is hosted by award-winning science journalist Chris Mooney, the author of four books on the relation between science, politics, and society.

ScienceOnlineClimate is the first thematic spin-off of the highly successful annual ScienceOnline conference for web-savvy science communicators. It will take place in Washington, DC, August 15-17. ScienceOnline cultivates the ways science is conducted, shared, and communicated online. They convene a diverse and growing community of researchers, science writers, artists, programmers, and educators—those who conduct or communicate science online—for meaningful face-to-face conversations around timely, relevant issues. ScienceOnline nurtures this global, ongoing, online community and facilitate collaborations which would not have been previously possible.

1776 is a platform to reinvent America by connecting the hottest startups from around the world with the assets of the most powerful city on Earth. In the heart of Washington, DC, just a few blocks from the White House, 1776 is where startups tackling major national challenges in sectors such as education, energy, health care, urban planning, and government can engage to build the future of our economy. For more information, visit http://1776dc.com/ or follow at @1776dc.

Climate Desk Live 06/06/13: The Alarming Science Behind Climate Change’s Increasingly Wild Weather

Watch live streaming video from climatenexus at livestream.com

Join us for a joint Climate Desk Live and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) event moderated by Chris Mooney discussing the alarming science behind climate change’s increasingly wild weather featuring senior Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro and top climate researcher Jennifer Francis.

  • Date and Time: Thursday, June 6, 2013, 4:30 p.m.
  • Location: WWF Building, 1250 24th St., NW, Washington, DC 20037.
  • To attend, please RSVP here.

Stu Ostro is a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel, and was a longtime climate change skeptic—until the devastating 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, when he started documenting hundreds of cases of extreme and unusual weather and the patterns associated with them, and became convinced that something is very off about the atmosphere.

Jennifer Francis is a top climate researcher focused on the Arctic, whose work has drawn dramatic attention in the context of the very warm U.S. winter of 2012 (and attendant droughts and wildfires), the Russian heat wave and Pakistan floods of 2010, and other extreme weather events.

Both are now leading voices in diagnosing the wild weather that the world has seen of late—most recently, an intense winter in the UK that threatens to last throughout April.

For Ostro and Francis, the explanation for what we’re seeing is simple. More heat in the Earth’s system due to global warming is felt everywhere, and that includes the massive-scale patterns of atmospheric circulation that give us our weather.

Ostro’s observations suggest that global warming is increasing the atmosphere’s thickness, leading to stronger and more persistent ridges of high pressure, which in turn are a key to temperature, rainfall, and snowfall extremes and topsy-turvy weather patterns like we’ve had in recent years.

Francis’s scientific story is complementary. She sees the rapid warming of the Arctic weakening the northern hemisphere jet stream, and thus, once again, slowing down the weather, leaving a given pattern stuck in place for longer (making any event potentially more disruptive and extreme).

We don’t know—yet—what the next extreme manifestations of these large-scale changes in weather patterns will be. But as Ostro and Francis warn, we had better be getting ready for them—because this isn’t your grandparent’s Planet Earth any longer.

We hope you can join us for Climate Desk Live on June 6th, 2013, as we discuss this important subject.

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About Climate Desk

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.